Lashkar-e-Taiba founder (LeT) and Jamat-ud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed was Wednesday convicted by a Pakistan court in two terror-financing cases and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison concurrently. Saeed and other leaders of his outfits were booked in July last year under charges of terror financing.
With pressure from the international community building up, Pakistan has been trying to probe operations and functioning of the LeT, its charitable wing JuD, and its other branches, in order to convince the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) — the Paris-based anti-terror watchdog — that it is taking steps to check terror financing.
Who is Hafiz Saeed?
Hafiz Saeed is the founder and leader of the Islamist terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is a Sunni group that follows the Ahle-Hadith interpretation of Islam. According to Stanford University’s Centre for International Security and Co-operation (CISC), the organisation was founded in 1990 and its goals include conducting jihad in the way of Allah, preaching the true religion and training the new generation along true Islamic lines.
Some of its goals are aligned with that of Pakistan, including the liberation of Kashmir from India.
Saeed is also the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. In an interview he gave to the BBC in 2014, Saeed denied his involvement in the Mumbai attacks, calling the evidence against him “just propaganda” by India. “The people of Pakistan know me and they love me. No one has tried to approach the American authorities to get this bounty [put on his head]. My role is very clear, and God is protecting me,” he told the BBC then.
Other attacks that LeT has been involved in include the 2001 shootout at Parliament House in New Delhi, and, most recently, the 2016 attack on the military headquarters in Uri.
In 2012, in order to support India in its attempt to extradite Saeed, the US State Department offered a bounty of up to $10 million for information that could lead to his arrest or conviction. Moreover, the US Department of the Treasury has marked Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist since 2012.
In the past few years, Saeed has been arrested on multiple occasions. In January 2017, he was arrested by the Pakistani government for raising funds for JuD, thereby violating UN sanctions. He was, however, released in November 2017, when the courts refused to extend the duration of his house arrest due to lack of evidence.
Most recently, Saeed was arrested in July 2019 by Pakistani authorities on charges of terror financing. Since then, he has been detained in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.
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What is the case against Hafiz Saeed?
Under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, Saeed, along with other leaders of the JuD, was booked in July in over two dozen cases of terror financing and money laundering registered by the state’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) in Lahore, Gujranwala and Multan.
In the 23 FIRs against Saeed and his accomplices, the charges included allegations that JuD was financing terrorism by collecting funds from various non-profit organisations and international Islamist charities, such as Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust and Muaz Bin Jabal Trust.
According to CISC, LeT’s fundraising efforts are “diverse and systematic” and it is not uncommon to find donation boxes for the group in Pakistani markets.
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It adds that a type of fundraising method that is unique to LeT is collecting animal skins from religious sacrifices and subsequently selling them in tanneries. As per a Dawn report, JuD earned over $1.2 million from the sale of hides in 2009.
ISI and the Pakistani government too help the LeT bring in funds, and it is believed to have fund-raising offices in Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and the Gulf region, as per CISC.
Why does Hafiz Saeed conviction matter?
Saeed was arrested by Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) in July 2019 while he was travelling from Lahore to Gujranwala. His arrest came just days before Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was scheduled to visit US President Donald Trump, who had admonished Pakistan for not doing enough to curb terrorism.
Before Saeed’s arrest in February 2019, the FATF had warned Pakistan to deliver on its commitments to curb terror financing. Pakistan feared being a part of FATF’s “Grey List”, which would raise the cost of financial transactions for the country. The FATF placed Pakistan in the grey list in July 2018 nonetheless.
Significantly, if Pakistan did not follow up on FATF’s warnings, it could potentially be downgraded to the Black List, which would make things more difficult for the country. FATF is de facto run by the US Treasury Department.
Saeed’s conviction is perhaps a reflection of Pakistan’s changing approach towards its treatment of terror groups, given the FATF’s actions and warnings.
“Risks to the global financial system virtually put the country’s entire machinery into an aggressive mode to show tangible progress within two months of the warning,” the Dawn report said.
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